LONDON: Mistaken beliefs about behaviors that could reduce the risks of cigarette smoking are most common among those most vulnerable to the harmful effects of smoking, U.S. researchers say.
“It is important for the public to understand that the harms of smoking cannot be reduced except by quitting,” Annette R. Kaufman from the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Control Research Branch in Rockville, Maryland, told Reuters Health by email. “Certain behaviors, such as exercise and diet, do not reduce the harmful effects of smoking if a person continues to smoke.”
The tobacco industry has propagated a variety of mistaken beliefs that certain behaviors, like exercise or diet, and certain product features, like filters or menthol cigarettes, can reduce the risks associated with cigarette smoking, the study team writes in Preventive Medicine.
The researchers used information from the Health Information National Trends Survey to find out what people believe about risk-reducing behaviors and whether these beliefs differ between people who smoke, or have smoked in the past and those who have not. They also looked at whether income levels, education levels and race influenced those beliefs.
More than 80 percent of people correctly believed that quitting cigarette smoking can help reduce the harmful effects of smoking “a lot.” Less than 2 percent of people didn’t think quitting smoking would help “not at all.”
Former smokers were more likely than current smokers or never smokers to believe that quitting would offer a benefit, and people with a college degree were more likely than those with less education to believe it. Low-income individuals were less likely to believe that quitting smoking would reduce its harmful effects, researchers found.
More than half the people surveyed mistakenly believed that exercise reduces the harmful effects of smoking at least somewhat, and nearly half incorrectly believed that eating fruits and vegetables or taking vitamins could undo the harmful effects of smoking.
Younger adults were more likely to believe that exercise reduces the harm of cigarette smoking, and people in the lowest income category (less than $15,000 a year) were most likely to believe in the beneficial effects of vitamins.
People who classified themselves as Hispanic or “other” were more likely than whites to believe in exercise and vitamins as risk-reducing measures, and African Americans, Hispanics, and others were more likely to believe that fruit and vegetable consumption could lower their risk.
“Smoking risk-reducing beliefs are particularly prevalent among populations who may be more likely to smoke cigarettes including younger adults, those with lower income, and racial/ethnic minorities,” Kaufman said. “So, public health campaigns that emphasize the importance of quitting smoking and free resources for cessation, above and beyond engaging in any other healthy behaviors, would be valuable.
“The single most important behavior change a person who smokes can make to reduce the health risks of cigarette smoking is to quit completely, as early in life as possible,” she said.